A Delicate Balance Assistant Director’s rehearsal diary: final week

BY Almeida Theatre   May 11, 2011

In the final instalment of James Yeatman’s rehearsal diary the production makes its way onto the stage and into its first performances. We’re already receiving some great audience feedback, so if you haven’t already booked, what are you waiting for? 

What a week. By Saturday it seems insane that we had ever been in the rehearsal room at all, or at least that it hadn’t happened months ago, such is the time warp of tech week and the excitement/nervousness of opening for previews.

So we got into the theatre on Tuesday; our first chance to see the set and it’s magnificent, oozing wealth and comfort, all burnished wood and leather-bound books. As with everything in this show it’s lovely to see all the detailed work that has gone into it, I particularly like the collection of family photographs on a shelf above the upstage right desk, all of them early-twentieth century family snaps; some of them are of the designer Laura’s parents.

Possibly even more remarkable than the set are the costumes though. There’s something about the fabric and colours of 1960s clothes which are completely unique, you don’t see them at all today. In her wig, lime-green trousers and pink blouse, Penelope is almost unrecognisable as Agnes. I’m a particular fan of the gentleman’s style of wearing a silk neckerchief underneath one’s shirt which is carried off to great effect by Tim and Ian in various scenes.

 

 It’s almost impossible to overstate what a difference being in the theatre with set, lights and costume makes. For five weeks we’ve been in quite a small rehearsal room with scruffy walls, using rehearsal props and sitting almost uncomfortably close to the performers. But now here we are, demonstrably in the world of 1960s East Coast suburban wealth. The set is both comfortable and isolating, something that can transform from being a cozy little haven to a cave, a stark place shutting out the wolves lurking outside.

Tuesday is spent teching, working through the play slowly, stopping every now and then to make sure we can get sound cues and scene changes right. In many ways it’s quite a simple play to tech – no moving bits of scenery, no trapdoors, no live band, but nonetheless everything is carefully controlled, particularly with the lights, which gently highlight different bits of the stage and subtly change the mood of the room from scene to scene. The general aim is not to be spotted making these changes – the lighting states should move imperceptibly from one to the next, subtly changing the character of the room without the audience noticing how it happened.

 

On Wednesday, with the tech over, we do two runs of the show. These are all about warming into the space, discovering how loud the actors need to be (even though it’s an intimate space, lots of sound doesn’t make it under the balcony, so the actors have to be very deliberate at projecting right to the back of the stalls), and sorting out problems with sightlines. A big part of my job in these runs is to scamper around the theatre sitting in potentially restricted seats making sure everyone will have as good a view as possible.

Thursday comes round, day of the first preview. It would be a bit of an understatement to say that nerves are very high. We all agree that in many ways what we need most is to put the play in front of an audience to see how they respond, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying for the actors. There are few dropped lines, but the audience respond to the show really well, laughing a huge amount, attentively listening and responding to the play. Seeing it in front of a crowd it’s easy to tell which bits of the play need work, but there’s time to do that in the afternoons before each preview. By Saturday, three shows under our belt and we know after all the work over the last six weeks we are onto something good.

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